Washington — The US said on Tuesday it had shot down a simulated, incoming intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) similar to ones being developed by countries such as North Korea, in a new test of the nation’s defences.
Planned months ago, the US missile defence test over the Pacific Ocean has gained significance after North Korea’s launch on July 4 of an intercontinental ballistic missile heightened concerns about the threat from Pyongyang.
The test was the first of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system against an incoming IRBM, which experts say is a faster and more difficult target to hit than shorter-range missiles.
The US Missile Defence Agency said the IRBM was designed to behave similarly to the kinds of missiles that could threaten the US.
"The successful demonstration of THAAD against an IRBM-range missile threat bolsters the country’s defensive capability against developing missile threats in North Korea and other countries," the agency said.
The US has deployed THAAD to Guam and South Korea to help guard against threats from North Korea. A ground-based missile defence system, THAAD is designed to shoot down short-, medium-and intermediate-range ballistic missiles.
In the latest test, a THAAD in Kodiak, Alaska, had intercepted a ballistic missile target that had been air launched from a C-17 aircraft flying north of Hawaii, the agency said.
This success leaves THAAD with a 100% track record for all 14 intercept attempts since flight testing began just over a decade ago. Lockheed Martin, the prime contractor for the THAAD system, said it could intercept incoming missiles inside and outside the Earth’s atmosphere.
The US deployed THAAD to South Korea in 2017 to guard against North Korea’s shorter-range missiles. That has drawn fierce criticism from China, which says the system’s powerful radar can probe deep into its territory. Earlier in July Moscow and Beijing, in a joint statement, called on Washington to immediately halt deployment of THAAD in South Korea.
According to the statement, Washington is using North Korea as a pretext to expand its military infrastructure in Asia and risks upsetting the balance of power in the region.
THAAD’s success rate in testing is far higher than that of the US’s Ground-based Midcourse Defence system, which is designed to shoot down an ICBM headed for the US mainland. The Ground-based Midcourse Defence system has only a 55% success rate over the life of the programme, but advocates say the technology has improved dramatically in recent years. The system successfully shot down an incoming simulated North Korean ICBM in a test in May.
That simulated test led the Pentagon to upgrade its assessment of the US’s ability to defend itself against a small number of ICBMs, according to an internal memo seen by Reuters.
The agency told Congress in June that it planned to deliver 52 more THAAD interceptors to the US Army between October 2017 and September 2018, bringing total deliveries to 210 since May 2011.